Meanwhile, a couple of restaurant reviews

Because why not?

So two new spots have opened up in Costa Mesa recently have already garnered a lot of attention — and well deserved too, it turns out. Various photos and comments via Flickr and Twitter prompted a few demands for more information so here we go…

Right near where I live, Valhalla Table is a sausage/beer spot that is essentially a riff on places like the wonderful Wurstküche up in LA. As Edwin Goei’s OC Weekly review points out, the secret to the place lies with the owners and main chefs, two sisters from Indonesia who clearly know their market. I hadn’t read the review when I first visited a couple of weeks back but I knew that was the chefs’ background and so I figured that the dishes to try would be those reflecting that cuisine. Bulls-eye — as Edwin’s review, backed up by his own family knowledge of Indonesian cuisine, confirmed and this photo of my meal shows:

Valhalla Table

So what you’re seeing there is the wild boar Balinese sausage, with sambal balado topping — Wikipedia has a sambal entry if you’d like to learn more — and the resultant rich, fiery taste is a treat and a half. Meantime, the dipping sauce for the fries was their mango curry mayo blend, a perfectly sweet but not sugary counterbalance to both the fries and the sandwich. The beer selection is pretty good for a small spot — that was one of the porters I had there — while the owners, who first opened a bakery over in Irvine, also make their own desserts; their double chocolate cookies rival the Avanti Cafe’s killer chocolate truffle cookies, and that isn’t light praise on my part. I’ve since brought other folks over to the spot and they’ve all left raving about its excellence so I figured word of mouth is going to sell this spot pretty darned quickly, and the staff are all friendly and helpful folks. And hey, it’s one block over from where I live, I can’t beat that!

Meantime, a spot down near Triangle Square that hosted the Italian/Argentine spot Pasta Connection was recently transferred to a new owner/chef. Pasta Connection is still around — they moved up the road a bit — but its replacement, Il Dolce, is also an Italian/Argentine cuisine location, and it is already knocking things totally out of the park. Il Dolce has also benefited from an Edwin Goei writeup as well as one in the LA Times, and I’ve noticed threads and discussions on Chowhound and other spots around the net. As I had the day off on Thursday I figured going down for a lazy early afternoon lunch would be the way to go — and was that ever the right decision, the place is simply stellar.

For an initial appetizer I went for a beef empanada — always a good standby if you’re trying Argentinian cuisine — and gotta say that might be the best one I’ve ever had in a restaurant setting:

Il Dolce empanada and sauce

Looked great, the side sauce was excellent and the empanada itself just tasted wonderful, the classic combination of a flaky but firm crust and the blend of meat, eggs, spices and more inside. I would have had more but in combination with a good greens salad, I didn’t want to ruin my appetite for the main dish itself, one of their pizzas. I went for the pizza patata:

Pizza patata

This wasn’t as good as it looks, folks — it was BETTER. Let me put it this way, even the rosemary was stellar, and the blend of that, the potatoes, the pancetta, the mozzarella, filling but not overstuffed…I was completely in heaven. Add in a Quilmes beer and I took my sweet time eating this one up, because I didn’t want to rush any of it. No room for dessert but next time out, that’s definitely part of the plan.

So yeah, check ‘em out.

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